As members of the University of Rhode Island Muslim Student Association stood in the snow on Tuesday in vigil for the students killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, their motive for solidarity was the same: “It could have been any of us,” club member Samir Yusuf said.  “Just normal Muslim students attending college.”

Club members peacefully protested outside the Multicultural Center to raise awareness for the hate crime and islamophobia often underrepresented by the media..  “We should be here standing for those students who didn’t have a voice,” club member Fersa Aldweesh said.

As they protested, they collected signatures on a large sheet of paper to send to the families of the students who were killed.  Last Saturday night, the Islamic School of Rhode Island in West Warwick was hatefully vandalized, and the students hope the signatures will show the families of the Chapel Hill victims that they have support from not only URI, but Rhode Island.

Credit: Allison Farrelly/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Credit: Allison Farrelly/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

“We were surprised in the vandalism that happened in Rhode Island, so close to where we live,” club member Mishal Siddiqui said. “In the last seven days five hate crimes against Muslims were committed and one of them was in Rhode Island.”

Excluding the hashtags #chapelhillshooting and #muslimlivesmatter, which went viral on social media, many feel that the deaths of graduate students Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha have been largely underreported.  “The media is very biased,” club member Leen Alsahli said. “They try to give Muslims a certain image.

“It’s not what you see on TV, ISIS and Al-Qaeda, we don’t believe in all that,” she continued. “Its against our religion.  Those are people who are using our name.”

For many members of the MSA, a large issue with the coverage of the Chapel Hill shooting was the media’s failure to label the shooter, 46-year-old Craig Hicks, as a terrorist.  Alsahli believes it is because he was a white American.  If the roles were reversed and the shooter had been Muslim, she believes that American’s engrained islamophobia would have labeled his hate-crime as an act of terror. “All crimes are just crimes,” Aldweesh said. “There is no race attached.”

While many of the members of MSA have not experience racial, cultural or religious intolerance at URI, freshman Reema Malik said she has.  When getting on a bus with a package from a friend in her hand, she was stopped by a man who demanded to know what was in the box.  He demanded the bus driver search the box before she was allowed to ride.

“He asked, ‘Is it a bomb?  Are you from Pakistan?’ and he was asking the bus driver to check the box,” Malik said. “I didn’t say anything because I was just scared.”

The post-9/11 racial profiling of Muslims in America is something the MSA struggles to combat, and standing up for the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting is a way for the club educate.

“These were all very bright students who stood up for all the beliefs we have in Islam, philanthropy, excelling in school, doing a lot for the community and being leaders,” Yusuf said.  “I believe it’s very important to stand up for our rights in America.  America is the country of freedom and equality, its why a lot of our parents were immigrants to this country, why they sacrificed so much to give us a better life here.”

“What happened in France?  It was all over [the media],” Alsahli said. “Something like this should be too.”